(Bloomberg) — Poland said it has stopped supplying weapons to Ukraine, further escalating a dispute over grain shipments that’s threatening to break a key alliance in Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
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“We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in an interview with Polsat television, in response to a question from a reporter on whether Warsaw would continue to support Kyiv despite the grain-exports disagreement.
He said his government has no intention to “risk the security of Ukraine” and won’t interfere with arms shipments from other countries through the military hub that’s grown up in the town of Rzeszow. He noted that Poland is also benefiting financially from the transit.
The dispute cast sudden doubt on the unity that had defined the neighbors’ relationship before the grain dispute, a friendship that seemed to epitomize European solidarity with Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
There was no immediate response from Kyiv to Morawiecki’s comments.
“I am not sure that it will have a significant impact” on the war effort, said Peter Schroeder, a former Russia analyst at the US Central Intelligence Agency and now an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Poland’s “most important role has been as a transshipment point to get weapons from across NATO and other countries into Ukraine,” he said. “The PM noted that would continue.”
Poland is a vital route for arms going to Ukraine from its allies in the US and Europe.
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Morawiecki’s announcement came just hours after Poland summoned Ukraine’s ambassador and threatened to expand a grain ban to other imports from its neighbor.
The government in Warsaw reacted to remarks from Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday in which the Ukrainian leader accused some European Union countries of feigning solidarity with his war-torn nation and appeasing Russia.
While Zelenskiy didn’t single out Poland, his language triggered an angry response there. The ruling Law & Justice party is seething over earlier criticism from Kyiv about its decision to unilaterally extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports — a move seen as a pre-election appeal to rural Polish voters.
After an initial exchange of barbs between Zelenskiy and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, on Tuesday, Morawiecki threatened to add more products to the grain ban if Kyiv escalates.
Duda laid into his counterpart on Tuesday in New York, comparing Ukraine’s reaction to the grain ban to that of a drowning man, who “can be extremely dangerous, because he can drag you to the depths” and “drown the rescuers.”
The back-and-forth signaled that what seemed to be a relatively minor disagreement has ballooned into something larger. A further worsening could have direct implications for the war, as Poland is the primary destination for refugees and the gateway to about 90% of all the western aid and military equipment headed for Kyiv.
The timing is also a blow to Ukraine, as the war of words flared just as Zelenskiy pressed his case in New York for more global support and Ukrainian forces advance in a grinding counteroffensive to retake occupied territory.
“Tension and disagreements between Kyiv and some of its strongest backers is sure to instill more confidence in the Kremlin that European support for Ukraine is not certain over the long term,” said Schroeder, the former CIA analyst.
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For Poland, the issue is a political one. The ruling Law & Justice party, seeking a third term in office in next month’s contest, is reluctant to alienate its rural base while growing discontent over the cost of supporting Ukraine has boosted the party’s opponents on the far right.
–With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska and Peter Martin.
(Updates with analyst comment from sixth paragraph)
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